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Important moments from the first marijuana hearing of the new congress

The first marijuana hearing from the 116th Congress started on Wednesday. A financial subcommittee from a house asked witnesses how access to banks can improve public security, how cash flow alone inhibits transparency and at some point cash in those companies smells cannabis.

"The absence of a broader, permanent set of rules continues to keep almost all banks out of this growing industry despite a clear interest," said Gregory Meeks (D-NY), head of the subcommittee, at the start of the session. Today's hearing will allow us to begin considering draft legislation to provide openness, responsibility and a major driver of violent crime in this space. "

Prior to the hearing, a bipartisan group became lawmakers circulated a draft bill that would shield banks from being punished by federal financial regulators and confirm that cannabis-related transaction profits "should not be considered as revenue from an illegal activity. ""

"Today, after six years, we finally have a hearing, and it comes too late, says representative Denny Heck (D-WA), a cosponsor of the law, said in the opening speech. "Too late to prevent dozens of armed robberies in my homeland of Washington. Too late for Travis Mason … a 24-year-old marine veteran in Aurora, Colorado, who reported for work as a security guard and Green Heart Dispensary on June 18, 2016, and was shot dead that night by an armed robber. "" We have the power of this committee to prevent murder and armed robbery, "he said, claiming that preventing marijuana companies from accessing banks means that they must operate on cash. "We must use it and we must use it now because we are already late."

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), another ticket sponsor, said that if lawmakers oppose legalization, "it's their business."

"But the American voters have talked and continued talking, and the fact is that you can't put the Geni back in the bottle," he said. "Prohibition is over."

Witnesses during the hearing included California State Treasurer Fiona Ma, Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP) Executive Director Major Neill Franklin, bank representatives, a DC-based medical marijuana dispenser owner and anti-chair chair -legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM).

"The committee is undoubtedly aware that the cannabis businesses are not alone in struggling to access banking – even if their is the most difficult situation. Any business that handles significant amounts of currency is also subject to greater scrutiny by the financial industry for all the reasons. well understood by members of this committee, Ma said in a written testimony.

She said that "an effective safe harbor mechanism in federal law promotes the safety of the public, enhances the efficiency of collecting the taxes and fees we use to regulate the industry, and does not allow banks and credit unions to completely abdicate their responsibility to know their customers and avoid illegal money laundering. "

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) said he was happy to see Ma witness. Legal marijuana" is here to stay and entrepreneurs and consumers deserve safe banking options, he wrote on Twitter.

Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) echoed that point and said that Nevada "is evidence that a marijuana ban is over" and that it is "time for the federal government to start acting like that."

Franklin, a retired policeman in Maryland, said that today's laws "encourage tax evasion, add expensive surveillance and bookkeeping costs and – most importantly – leave legitimate businesses exposed to theft, robbery, and violence that accompany these crimes. "" I'm not one of fear of mongering – what I testify here today is rooted in experience and research, "he said. "Any policeman who has worked the street or investigated enough robberies will testify to any business that is forced to handle large amounts of cash."

He told members of the subcommittee that "the security of thousands of employees, business owners, security personnel, police officers and community members is in your hands."

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), head of the entire House Financial Services Committee, thanked Meeks for making this the first sub-committee's hearing of the session and called the question "so important."

"So many people have been waiting for it," Waters said before the subcommittee broke for a recession. "I appreciate it so much."

The hearing was well attended, then Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) highlighted in a tweet that showed a line of people queuing for lobbyists and "those who can afford to pay people to keep their place."

During the hearing, Ocasio-Cortez asked about Giving bank access to the marijuana industry would be to "compensate the racial gap right now", giving an advantage to the most prosperous business owners of individuals from communities disproportionately affected by the drug war.

Corey Barnette, DC Marijuana Business Owner, said he agreed that the industry it exists today does not reflect the community as a whole, but he also claimed that access to banking can provide even less potential business owners with funds within reach to start a cannabis company.

During one of the lighter moments in the hearing, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) Barnette about cash on his dispensary smelled like marijuana.

"I heard it is true," said Tlaib. "The money smells right?"

"It has been the case in some cases," replied Barnette.

While SAM chairman Jonathon Talcott was rarely dealt with by members throughout the hearing, Roger Williams (R-TX) asked the witness whether it was "a widely accepted fact that marijuana is not a gateway drug and has no negative negative impact on public health. "

Talcott claimed that cannabis "is very clearly a gateway drug" and peddled anecdotes about "marijuana-induced psychosis" in states that have legalized.

Heck, one of the bank account sponsors, addressed what motivated him to be a lawyer for financial services law solutions for the marijuana industry. He said it was his brother who died after being exposed to herbicides while serving in the Vietnam War.

"Towards the end of his life was the only relief he could find, from the illegal consumption of marijuana," Heck said. "I always thought and lived with the irony that the same nation who asked my brother to put on uniform and put his life at risk – in an activity that eventually took his life – kept him criminal when he found relief in the only way he could. "

And if a security is created for banks, it makes it easier for marijuana companies to give the patient relief, then there is reason to fight for reform, Heck said.

Congress has the ability to make a simple political change that will greatly benefit communities and small businesses by approving cannabis banking reform, said Aaron Smith, CEO of the National Cannabis Industry Association, in a press release. "Representatives Perlmutter and Heck should be commended for pushing for this hearing so that this issue can get the attention it deserves and we can move towards a sensible policy that will increase public security and transparency in this growing industry."

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who released a blueprint describing the marijuana legalization legislative path, said in a press release that tackling "access to the banking problem" is "one of the first domains to fall."

The hearing shows that Congress "is finally progressing towards dealing with irrational, unfair and insecure denial of common banking services for state legal marijuana businesses around the country," he said.

"Today's hearing was a big deal for thousands of employees, businesses and communities across the country who have been forced to trade in piles of money while Congress is putting its head in the sand," Perlmutter said. The second bill cosponsor, in a press release. "The American voters have spoken and continued talking, and the fact is that you can't put the genius back in the bottle. The SAFE Banking Act is dedicated solely to taking money from the streets and making societies safer, and only Congress can take these steps to provide this security for businesses and financial institutions across the country. "

"We listened for hours of testimony today about the dangerous position we make shop owners and employees in, by forcing them to do all their business in cash. We can fix this. We don't have to force them to operate in a way that makes it difficult to secure and track their funds, Heck says. "Regardless of our views on the use of marijuana, voters have decided in states across the country that they want recreational and medical markets. Continuing to do nothing to protect public security would be negligence."

This is The Marijuana Bank Bill Bill Democrats Plans to Pass in 2019: Draft Text Released

Photo courtesy of the House Financial Services Committee / YouTube.

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